2012 Toyota Camry Review
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Between a global economic meltdown, a widely publicized series of auto recalls, and an earthquake and tsunami in its home country, Toyota has had a tough few years. Through it all, the midsize Toyota Camry has remained America's best-selling car. But recently sales have declined, and the Japanese giant has looked vulnerable. With the Camry undergoing a 2012 redesign, it seems like an ideal time for Toyota to restore its tarnished reputation.
However, while the all-new Camry is a solid vehicle and an improvement over the outgoing model, it still doesn't take a great leap forward to distance itself from improving competitors. Except, that is, for the Camry Hybrid, which offers an amazing balance of power, space and fuel economy.
The XLE is loaded, with dual-zone automatic climate control, sunroof, navigation system, HD radio with iTunes tagging, Sirius satellite radio and Toyota's Entune application-based entertainment system. The XLE V6 also adds leather upholstery and heated front seats, while the SE V6 gets the XLE's entertainment features. The hybrid models are equipped much like their standard-line counterparts, but they come with a bit more equipment.
Options are plentiful. They include a 10-speaker JBL GreenEdge sound system, a rearview camera, a universal garage-door opener, a blind-spot monitor, and a premium hard-drive navigation system with a 7-inch touch screen.
Under the Hood
Toyota has also achieved greater fuel efficiency with its Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain this year, improving from 31 mpg city/35 mpg highway to 43/39 mpg for the LE trim, and 41/38 mpg in the XLE. The main difference is the change from an older 2.4-liter 4-cylinder to the newer, more efficient 2.5-liter engine. The engine makes 156 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque. It is aided by two electric motors, one that acts primarily as a generator to charge the nickel-metal hydride battery pack, and one that acts mostly as a motor to power the vehicle or assist the engine. A power-split planetary gear set routes the power between the engine and wheels, acting as a continuously variable automatic transmission. Toyota quotes a total output of 200 horsepower.
The dashboard has a flowing design with a soft-touch surface highlighted by stitched accents. Soft-touch surfaces also adorn the upper door trim, door armrests and center armrest. The materials are nice for the class, but we get the feeling that Toyota didn't spend much, if any, more money to achieve the look.
As in the past, control layout is simple, with large, easy-to-use buttons on a well-defined center stack. The Hybrids have screens to display power flow and past and current fuel economy. Many Camry Hybrid owners will enjoy monitoring these screens to see how the system works and improve their car's fuel efficiency.
The Camry is offered with six different audio systems. Higher-end versions have the Entune multimedia system that debuted in the Prius V. It pairs with your smartphone to provide access to mobile apps, including music streaming through Pandora and iheartradio, Bing local search with navigation, OpenTable dining reservations and movietickets.com. It also provides access to information previously offered by satellite services, such as stock quotes, sports scores, fuel pricing, and live weather and traffic. Entune makes it easy to use these apps on your dashboard screen; you just need the right phone. We expect many more apps in the future.
While the exterior dimensions are basically the same, interior space is a bit more useful. Toyota has moved the pedals and front seats forward to improve rear-seat room and sculpted many of the panels and trim pieces to open up more space throughout. The front seats have longer cushions to reduce fatigue, and the tilt/telescoping steering wheel tilts 33 percent further to help tailor a better driving position. While we prefer the SE trim's extra seat bolstering, the result of all this work is a more relaxed ride that offers better passenger comfort, especially for long trips.
The rear seat has excellent head, leg and foot space, and it is wide enough to fit three--perfect for a family sedan. The rear seat folds down 60/40 to make the already large 15.4-cubic-foot trunk that much more useful. Due to the size and placement of the battery, the Hybrid's trunk has 13.1 cubic feet of space, and the rear seat folds only on the right side to reveal a shortened pass-through.
On the Road
The SE trim has stiffer suspension settings for a sportier experience. It offers quicker reactions and a firmer ride. Some will prefer it, but others will want the cosseting feel of the base suspension. Try before you buy.
Toyota says the steering feel is improved, too. While we find it predictable, it's still not quick and doesn't offer much feel. The Honda Accord is still the class leader in this regard.
The standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is no world-beater, but it provides as much power as most will ever need, and does so without much noise. The V6 engine is even more powerful, and it is amazingly smooth and quiet, delivering willing power. It's one of the best V6s in this class.
The real star of the 2012 show, though, is the hybrid powertrain. Fuel economy is improved 24 percent over the previous model, and power, while up only 13 horsepower, is far easier to access. The Hybrid is notably quicker than the standard 4-cylinder engine. During testing, we were amazed it was a hybrid.
Greenies will like the fact that the Camry Hybrid can run on electric power alone up to 25 mph and that it shuts off the engine at stoplights. There is also an "EV" button that allows you to drive the vehicle on electric power alone for about a mile, provided you don't go too fast or get on the throttle too hard. This uses up the battery, though, and doesn't improve fuel economy, so it's just a gimmick. An "ECO mode" button dulls throttle response and cuts back on air conditioning to help you get a bit better fuel economy. We don't like how dull it is, but it would work well for stop-and-go traffic.
Right for You?
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Toyota provided MSN with travel and accommodations tofacilitate this report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.